Why »Grounded Empathy« is one of the key Pillars of IoPT (ft. Peter Levine on Trauma)

What the example of Dr. Peter Levine’s accident can teach us about trauma, the hidden language of our body, grounded empathy and the healing journey with the help of the Identity-oriented Psychotrauma Therapy (IoPT).

When Dr. Peter Levine experienced a traumatic accident

Dr. Peter A. Levine, born 1942, biophysicist and psychologist, is one of the most important trauma experts of our time. In an interview he recounts a traumatic accident he had on his way to a friends 60ths birthday. Dr. Peter Levine was hit by a teenage driver, was thrown into her windshield and then back into the street.

An off-duty paramedic came for his aid who was yelling at him to not move his head. The paramedic was afraid that his neck could be broken. This however led Levine to go into a deeper state of shock. So deeply that he left his body. He remembers floating above his body looking at the entire scenery and seeing the man commanding him what to do and firing questions. Actually, doing the standard procedure of asking name, location, date, taking the pulse, etc. – everything he has been trained to do. For some reason, Levin though had the power to tell him to leave him alone and thus feeling less helpless.

Some time later, a woman came by, a pediatrician. She asked Levine if there is anything she could do and Levine said: “Please sit by me.” And so she did. By feeling her hand, smelling her scent, hearing her soothing voice he finally had the feeling he wasn’t alone. And by this he was able to feel his body again and detect where the shock was locked. He was able to let the shock move “through listening to my body in its unspoken voice. I experienced waves of shaking and trembling.” He was able to re-experience the traumatic accident in all of his emotions.

Grounded empathy with IoPT

One of the key pillars of the Identity-oriented Psychotrauma Therapy – at least as I see it in my own experience and how I do work in my practice – is what I call »grounded empathy«. The person, the therapist needs to have a warmth for people and their life experiences, a grounded presence and seeing the work as assistance and accompanying rather than teaching or fixing.

Grounded empathy doesn’t derive by only knowing about the different aspects and stages of trauma through studies and observations or by personality. The grounded empathy I mean derives from years and years of experience by going through one’s own traumata and experience as being in resonance for other people’s intentions. It is when practical experience is turning slowly into wisdom. Wisdom about life – about the positives and negatives aspects of life. Only this enables the therapist to set healthy barriers and at the same time being able to assist people on their path to the deepest of trauma experiences without being hit by waves of emotions.

Nobody can do it for us but we really can’t do it alone

At the end of the interview, Dr. Peter Levine said:

“Even with 40 years of developing the methodology [Somatic Experience] and working literally with thousands of clients, I don’t think I could have done what I did. Certainly not as effectively had that women come there and sat there with her warmth, with her presence.”

In individual but more over in group sessions, we can actually experience that trauma healing can’t be done for us. It is in everyone’s responsibility to take a decision. Taking a decision of turning inwards and to feel the wounds and all of the emotions of physical and psychological injuries we have experienced.

If we trust our bodies and psyche, find the right environment for us and people who can assist us along the way – this is the biggest present we can receive on our healing journey. Together, we can empower everyone of us and “guide us back towards wholeness”, as Dr. Peter Levine said.

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